Hopefully you’ve read LA Times baseball writer Bill Shaikin’s piece on the A’s from last night (I tweeted it shortly after I saw it in Google News). If not, take a few minutes to gather it in and then come back here.
Okay, ready? Let’s do a deep dive into the meaty parts of the column.
There are indications Selig might rule by the end of the year. Yet, rather than say yes or no, Selig appears to be considering a ruling that could challenge both the A’s and Giants to fulfill certain criteria.
“I think there will be an effort to be Solomonesque,” said someone who has spoken with Selig but declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. “This is not a ‘yes or no’ sort of thing.”
The status quo works just fine for the Giants, but it is corroding the A’s.
Lew Wolff, the A’s owner, won’t say much about the process. But he will say this: If Selig puts conditions on his ruling that require a year or so to fulfill, the waiting game is over.
“That would be a no,” Wolff said. “They might as well just tell us no.”
For instance, the burden could be put on the A’s to guarantee their financial projections. If the A’s move to San Jose, pay to build the ballpark, and come off baseball’s welfare system of revenue sharing, how can the A’s ensure the long-term sustainability of a championship-caliber club?
First, let’s look at the “Solomonesque” effort. For some time, the level-headed among us have espoused this concept. It would mean the Giants wouldn’t be able to extract $200 million from the A’s or whatever the price was they won’t communicate in private or public. And it would mean that the A’s wouldn’t get San Jose for free. There is a price. The actual number and terms are still up for debate, but despite what many think of this arduous process, Selig is at least attempting to resolve this in a fair way. If it’s done right, both sides will come away happy and with something to complain about, as is the case in most big money negotiations.
The status quo item is something we’ve covered ad nauseum here. No need to rehash it now.
Then there’s Wolff’s comment. This is the big one because it shows that he has a limit as to how long he’ll wait for an answer. Shaikin confirms this in a tweet accompanying his column:
Remember that in May, Wolff asked for a vote on the territorial rights issue. That vote did not end up on the agenda for either the May or August owners meetings. That would make the November meetings pivotal for Wolff, if not for Selig or the other owners. With the sale of the Padres out of the way and national TV deals on their way to being sealed, the A’s should be on the front burner again. (I’m not getting my hopes up.)
If Selig asks for more time, the ball’s in Wolff’s court. He could sell, which has to date not shown a willingness to do. Despite the lack of a stadium deal and the A’s being stuck (for the time being) in Oakland, the A’s could fetch $500 million easily, especially if multiple bidders were involved. Selig and the other owners, sympathetic to the Wolff’s plight (Wolff is well-liked in the Lodge), would push hard for Wolff to get top dollar for his patience. If the team were to stay in Oakland, incoming owners would have to show that they had a stadium plan ready to go and funded. The CBA’s stipulation that the 15 teams in the largest markets (which include Oakland) have to stop taking in revenue sharing is all the motivation any ownership group needs. The worrying factor is the possible emergence of a Clay Bennett-type of bidder who seeks to move the A’s out of the area. It would be difficult to pull off, but not impossible, and with the legal issues that will arise with any T-rights battle, the idea could be considered an easier path to resolution than keeping the team in the Bay Area.
Wolff could try to make it work in the East Bay, but it seems like those bridges have been burned so badly that there’s no trust upon which a relationship can be built. I’m reminded of Tom Benson’s situation as owner of the New Orleans Saints both pre- and post-Katrina. At several points it seemed like the Saints were gone, especially as the Superdome was destroyed inside and out in the wake of the hurricane. It took $320 million in mostly federal and state money to bring the Superdome up to current NFL standards. The NFL only funded $15 million of it. It took an act of god to turn the Saints around and to reform Benson’s pariah image.
The last part about guaranteeing financial projections is a fair request. It’s not just a matter of making sure Wolff gets the best deal possible, it’s also about ensuring that if the team is sold down the line it isn’t saddled with really bad debt. If, as Wolff has indicated, the ownership group will put together a lot of upfront equity for Cisco Field, that’s a huge selling point to Selig. It would reduce outstanding debt and would positively impact any future franchise sale, since the team’s interest in the ballpark would be part of the sales price. Look at it this way: while many franchise rely on regular cash calls to fund operations, the A’s don’t have to do that because of revenue sharing and tidy fiscal management. Going out-of-pocket for the ballpark is a one-time, major cash call. Seems like ownership is already leaning in this direction, the question is how much?
Numerous short-term matters will also come into play, such as the Coliseum lease and whatever progress is being made by Oakland on its Howard Terminal effort. Whatever decision Selig and the owners make, it’s better than the uncertainty that has loomed over the franchise for so long. The Lodge owes A’s fans and A’s ownership that much.